WHEN the National Theatre of Brent’s Patrick Barlow got his hands on John Buchan’s The 39 Steps (as reimagined by North Country Theatre for performance by four actors) the result was an instant, and worldwide, success.
And now Lesley Bates and Studio Theatre have brought it to the stage in Salisbury, with even more nods to Alfred Hitchcock than had Mr Barlow’s version.
It would be hard to exaggerate the brilliance of this production, on until Saturday 13th June and all but sold out. Five actors play Buchan’s characters – 139 of them is the accepted number, but they move so fast you wouldn’t want to count.
The story follows a few days in the life of Richard Hannay, newly back in London, bored and lonely. All that changes when he goes to the London Palladium and is accosted by a mysterious woman with a well-nigh impenetrable accent who creates a diversion by firing a gun, and then accompanies him home. There she tells him she is being pursued by those who would obliterate Blighty … and so the fun beings.
The incredibly inventive staging calls for flights in bi-planes, suspension beneath the Forth Bridge, a train-ride to the Highlands and a hilarious bedroom scene involving handcuffs, stockings and animosity.
The director called in choreographer Sue Bale to help with the movement, the timing of which is critical. And they all got it spot on.
The set, designed by Helen Green, has to include all the necessary props in Hannay’s sitting room, and the atmosphere is enhanced by crackling radios with BBC English pronounced by a very partial but inaccurate announcer and very versatile doors and windows!
Hannay is played by Studio regular Paul Chalmers, with all the wry, louche charm that the hero of a ripping yard should have.
All the men are played by James Bradwell and Alistair Faulkner, perhaps at their funniest as the faux professor and his wife and the innkeeper and her husband, respectively.
You wouldn’t fault this in a professional production, so the wonderment is greater remembering that all these people have day jobs as well!
Try to get a ticket if you possibly can.
Photographs by Anthony von Roretz